Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music
A collection of biographical and musical essays, co-edited by Renée Levine Packer and Mary Jane Leach, was published by the University of Rochester Press, Eastman Studies in Music Series in December 2015.
Reviews and Press
Late last year, “Gay Guerrilla,” a book of essays that takes its title from one of Eastman’s pummeling signature works, was published; it includes the first substantial attempt to tell the story of his eventful, finally tragic life. —Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times
“Gay Guerrilla” opens with an extended biographical essay, by Packer, that feels ready for adaptation as a harrowing indie film.” — Alex Ross, The New Yorker
A fascinating new collection of essays exploring the life and work of the enigmatic composer Julius Eastman . . . who worked fluently in jazz, improvisation and acoustical experiments. An indication of his impact is the very fact that so many people have come together [in this book] to remember him and are actively championing his music. Most of his compositions were once thought to be lost, but [co-editor] Leach has been collecting and disseminating the pieces for almost 20 years. —Albany, NY Times-Union
The publication of this rigorously researched, lovingly produced, multidimensional study of a singular artist will surely be met with joy by those of us who remember Julius Eastman–the inspired creator, the sly provocateur and martyred saint of the avant-garde. For those who are interested in iconoclasts of whatever stripe, this volume will be a revelation and an invitation to rethink what composition, performance, and life at the precipice of madness can be. — Bill T. Jones, choreographer and dancer
Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music has arrived just in time for Black Lives Matter and gets my deepest praise. This important volume of essays, brought forth by two brilliant women who have long championed Eastman’s music, belongs in every music conservatory library and beyond. — Pauline Oliveros, composer
Renée Levine Packer has written a 28,000-word biography on Julius Eastman, based on numerous interviews with members of Eastman’s family and friends, plus her own personal conversance with Eastman’s life from 1968 onward, bringing new material to light. Described as “compassionate and cleareyed” by Zachary Woolfe in the New York Times, her overview ranges from Eastman’s family roots, early years in Ithaca, student days at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, the Buffalo years as a member of Lukas Foss’s contemporary music group and as professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, through his New York years and death at age 49.
Julius Eastman lived in many worlds: black, white, gay, straight, classical music, jazz music, an academic world, a downtown New York disco world. His music, insistent and straightforward, resists categorical labels but seethes with a tension that resonates with musicians, scholars, and audiences today. Eastman’s provocative titles, Gay Guerrilla, Evil Nigger, Crazy Nigger, and others assault us with his obsessions.
In what has been called a “miraculous revival,” one increasingly encounters performances of Eastman’s work. In the first quarter of 2014 alone, the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed Eastman’s Stay On It on its Minimal Jukebox series along with the works of Steve Reich and John Adams. Music Moderne in Oregon sponsored the performance and broadcast of Evil Nigger for four pianos; the Marrakech Biennale 5 in Morocco presented If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?, and pianist Joseph Kubera released a new recording on New World Records featuring the never-recorded Eastman piece Piano 2. A recent note about Jace Clayton’s new album, The Julius Eastman Memory Depot in the New Yorker (8/26/13) described Eastman as “irreverent . . . the real thing: an extreme composer.” Unjust Malaise, the triple CD album of Eastman’s works spearheaded by composer Mary Jane Leach (co-editor of this volume) is considered “a hit” by New World Records. A brilliant singer and pianist, Eastman, the performer, is best known for his performances and recordings of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King for which he received the highest acclaim, including a Grammy nomination.
The purpose of this book is to construct an authentic portrait of Eastman’s life and times. Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music consists of scholarly essays and personal accounts, plus a biography written by Renée Levine Packer. Other contributors are: David Borden, Luciano Chessa, Ryan Dohoney, Kyle Gann, Andrew Hanson-Dvoracek, R. Nemo Hill, Mary Jane Leach, George E. Lewis, Matthew Mendez, and John Patrick Thomas. This is not a Festschrift. The book employs a range of informed voices that coalesce to provide readers with a multi-dimensional view of this complex person who will be of interest to the academic arena, the gay and lesbian community, and to a lay readership as well.